The German jurist, Hans J. Morgenthau once said, “ International politics like all politics, is a struggle for power”. This very struggle for power, quite evidently, has disembogued into Kathmandu’s foreign policy and has culminated into a paradigm shift when observed through the lens of Neorealism. This paradigm shift in Nepal’s foreign policy is quite evident from how the country rejected the plan for a State Partnership Program (SSP) with the United States in the eleventh hour. This conspicuous shift seen in the policy of Nepal , will surely leave tremors that could transmute the geopolitical landscape of the region. Therefore, it is necessary for Nepal to keep its policy of non-alignment in check while maintaining a state of equilibrium with not only the US, but China and India as well.
Kathmandu’s foreign affairs have always been subjected by regional politics. This holds true for the initial reluctance shown for ratifying the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) and then later straight out repudiating the SSP. The SSP can be seen as a bilateral program with ostensibly peaceful goals on surface by giving the US military a legitimate entry in to the country. However in hindsight, it is believed to have well-defined military goals in retrospect of Nepal’s relations with its two major neighbors, China and India, as well as its internal security. It is for this very reason The Sher Bahadur Deuba administration rejected the initiative out of concern that it is a ruse to enlist Nepal in a military alliance opposed to China.
This shift in Nepal’s foreign is a result of a myriad of factors that has been governing the Deuba administration’s foreign outlook. Perhaps the most cardinal reason for this can be seen in the form of security implications for Nepal, if the US was allowed to enter in the country. If this agreement was signed, Nepal would have been subjected to an internal turmoil further fueled by fear and resentment as the SPP has seen quite a lot of opposition from within. Moreover, parties and institutions opposing the SSP could possibly run amok too, creating a palpable sense of fear in the country. This was quite evident when the Nepal army stepped in on June 15, asserting that it will not accept the program. Therefore, allowing the US military is tantamount to bringing bedlam within the country.
The security repercussions by allowing the US military on Nepal’s soil does not only confine to internal but also external threats too in the form of deteriorating relations with China. From a geopolitical perspective, China is Nepal’s direct neighbor and her rivalry with the United States is quite a conspicuous affair. Moreover, allowing the US in, could have led to a strategic choking of China creating a state of impasse with in the whole region, therefore further straining the Sino-Nepal relations. One such example of this can be seen when the US Deputy Secretary of State Zeya Ujra visiting a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal. Henceforth, it is quite evident that the SPP could in turn become an anti-China military alliance.
Being sandwiched between two nuclear powers, Nepal has always been adjusting its foreign affairs in order to strike a balance in its relations with not only the US but also India and China. It has always deemed necessary for Kathmandu to never tip the weight of the scale in one or the other’s favor. Being a small nation with not a strong military when juxtaposed with China, it is necessary for a smaller nation to have cordial ties with its strong nation instead of creating an environment for a casus belli. A good example can be seen in the shape of the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Therefore, Nepal can can learn from the example of the Ukraine that upsetting a strong neighbor can place any smaller nation in a precarious position.
A shift in Nepal’s foreign policy is also necessary on the economic forefront aswell. Keeping friendly ties with China has always been the way forward as the country has always been heavily dependent on imported goods from China. This dependence on China for everyday goods is an integral reason why the relations with China can not be strained. The fiscal year of 2020 saw Nepal importing in excess of 233 billion NPR. This economic dependency therefore, sheds light on the plight of the country were it to sign the SPP.
Moreover, it is also evident how over the years, China has mostly peaked in foreign direct investment (FDI) pledges to Nepal in many recent fiscal years. These increasing investment pledges from Chinese companies has been seen in a plethora of areas such as cement, hydropower and even tourism. The first five months of the year 2022 saw an influx of about 200,000 tourists in China. This shows that China is an integral subject for the foreign policy of Nepal.
Moving forward, it is important for the Deuba administration to find a way to not only ease out the dwindling relations with China but also try to be on friendlier terms with the US. This can be possible if Nepal maintains its policy of non-alliance and bring neutrality on the table when it comes to dealing with US or China. It is also imperative for the foreign ministry to formulate policies concerning the US and China to be as non-partisan as possible.
Salis Malik is a freelance journalist and columnist based in Islamabad. He can be reached on Facebook @salismalik7777